• What’s in your toolbox? Part 1: Soil Sampling

  • It must be January because I find myself out in the field conducting Phase Two Environmental Site Assessments, more than when the weather was nice and the ground was free of snow and ice. Loading up my gear got me thinking of all the equipment on my mental checklist for field sampling; which became the basis for this month’s blog. I have pre-packed buckets or totes with my most commonly used sampling gear, but occasionally I add or remove items as dictated by site conditions and project requirements. If you are new to this type of work a checklist is handy so you don’t miss necessary tools when you are far from the office.

    Stay Safe
    Essential items to address health and safety include:

    • Common sense – the most overlooked item in many tool kits.
    • Site Specific Health and Safety Plan, including all utility locates and ‘tailgate’ safety meeting(s).
    • PPE – hard hat, safety boots, hi-vis vest, eye and hearing protection at a minimum; all the way up to full Hazmat suits and breathing gear depending on potential site hazards.
    • Basic First aid kit; communications (cell or sat phone if needed), sunscreen, bug spray, water.
    • Suitable work wear, depending on the location and weather – for example, I have three types of safety boots & coveralls – summer, mud and winter – if you are not comfortable, dry and warm it can get miserable fast.

    Be Prepared
    In addition to safety concerns and utility locates, you will also need to pre-arrange a number of items:

    • Qualified subcontractors (drillers, excavators, lab, locators, geophysicists, etc.)
    • Site access – permission, tenant notification, working around site occupants and equipment.
    • Lab-supplied sample containers and Chain-of-Custody forms to facilitate your Sampling and Analysis Plan.
    • Preservatives and soil samplers from lab for sampling volatile contaminants.
    • Coolers and ice packs to keep samples secure and temperature controlled.
    • Rental equipment – Photo-ionization Detectors, screening devices, etc.
    • Drums or pails for containment of drilling residuals.

    What’s in your toolbox?
    We each have our own preferred tools based on experience with different projects; the most common can include:

    • Sampling tools – I use kitchen knives, spoons and small trowels for sampling from spilt-spoons and direct-push samplers (stainless steel for sampling volatile contaminants & plastic for metals), and larger trowels and a shovel for test pits and bulk sampling.
    • Decontamination supplies – this can range from a bucket, brush, distilled water and lab-grade soap for general cleanup of hand tools; to full steam cleaning/pressure washing of equipment, with full containment and disposal of wash waters.
    • Stakes, flagging, spray paint for test hole layout.
    • Survey gear (or surveyor) to tie in test hole locations and elevations.
    • Tape measure, measuring wheel or 30-m tape for layout.
    • Ziploc sample bags, indelible water proof markers, extra (waterproof) pens or pencils.
    • Field book and pre-formatted borehole/test-pit logs, scaled site plan for reference.
    • A well-stocked basic toolbox with various wrenches, pliers, screwdrivers, etc.
    • Well supplies, ground water monitoring & sampling equipment, if needed (more on that next month).
    • Lots of disposable sampling gloves – I prefer non-latex, biodegradable nitrile gloves; and change gloves for each and every sample. I go up one size in winter and use a liner glove to keep from freezing.
    • Garbage bags for all those used gloves, used Terracore/Encore samplers.

    These lists are flexible and many readers will also have their own suggestions and custom items. Next month, I will review a similar list of essential toolbox items for ground water monitoring and sampling.

    Bill Leedham, P. Geo., CESA
    Bill is the Head Instructor and Course Developer for the Associated Environmental Site Assessors of Canada (www.aesac.ca); and the founder and President of Down 2 Earth Environmental Services Inc. You can contact Bill at